Chapter Seventeen

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I might be breaking a world record for yawning. It's probably not a great record to break while driving on the freeway, but I can't help it, no matter how hard I try. My energy level is low after my visit with Riley, although not to the point of blacking out. That hasn't happened since the night of my birthday, but I feel weak enough to know that I need to be in Amarleen's class in the morning.

It's a relief to pull into my driveway, even though I know I'll be walking into a snake pit. I'm not too sure I'm up for round five-hundred-and-three with my aunt, but there's a nap waiting for me once I get past her. That's all the motivation I need to open my door and get out of the car.

I square my shoulders like I'm getting ready for battle. Which I am, really. Breathe in, breathe out, and just keep walking.

My aunt flings open the front door before I can put my key in the lock. "You're late," she barks.

"For what?" I brush past her. I'm only a few steps away from my bed and the beauty of burying myself under the blankets. Give me strength.

"Dinner. You know we always eat at six o'clock. Sharp."

I kick off my sandals, not bothering to turn around to look at her. "That's when you eat at your house."

"And that's when we'll eat here, since you're grounded. You're not just running off to see God-knows-what-boy and not telling me when you're coming home."

I shrug and keep walking, dragging my feet down the hallway to my bedroom. "You can't ground me," I call over my shoulder. "We're not at your house, remember?"

I shut and lock my bedroom door behind me before she can answer, and then sink face-first into my bed. All I want to do is curl up under the covers and get swept away into dreamland, but I know what I have to do before I let myself sleep.

It takes a few minutes before I can push myself up with my arms. Once I'm up, I close my eyes and let my mind go still. It takes longer than usual before I see the sparks of gold that tell me I'm connecting.

I must nod off while I'm getting my energy boost, because it's after 1 a.m. when my eyes open and I look at the clock on my bedside table. My head fell forward at some point, and my neck is stiff from the position I've been sleeping in. Fantastic. I try rubbing it with my fingers.

As sleepy as I was before, I'm wide-awake now. The house is silent, and I know my aunt went to bed hours ago. The quiet gives me a chance to think, but I'm not sure that's a good thing. Between my aunt's house-crashing and life-crashing, running into Selena again and finding out she knows Riley, and then Riley himself, there's a lot to think about.

There's something nagging at my mind, too. I sit still, trying to let the thought surface. The moment Riley's mom walked into his apartment plays in my head, almost on a loop, until I realize what it is.

Dr. Julian's office called, and there was something about a new time to see him. Elizabeth didn't say what the appointment was for and neither did Riley, but I think I need to find out.

I grab my iPad from my bedside table and open a web browser. Dr. Julian and Los Angeles are what I type in the search box, even though there are probably a zillion or so doctors in L.A. with the same last name.

Or maybe not. I stare at the first search result that shows up on my screen. Ernest Julian, Ph.D. Grief counselor.

Is Riley seeing a grief counselor? I think of the photograph in his living room and what happened to his energy when he was talking about the girl pictured in it. Then there's how uncomfortable he is with any mention of death at all. This might even make sense.

"Did you have a nice date this afternoon?"

I look up from the screen at the sound of Noah's voice. Now I know I'm onto something. Noah doesn't usually show up in the middle of the night without sending me an indigo feather first.

I ignore his question. "Riley's seeing a grief counselor?" I ask. He nods. "Because of the girl in the photograph?"

"Good detective skills." That must be a yes.

"Who was she?"

"Her name was Amanda." I wait for more, but there's nothing. Helpful, Noah.

"Am I here to help him with his grief over Amanda?" I ask.

"Yes."

"I don't get it, though. He's already seeing a grief counselor. Why does he need me?"

Noah sets his hat down beside him on the chair. "Let me show you something."

"Can you do that here?" It's been a long time since he's shown me anything. The last time he did was shortly after I found myself in The Life-After, and I thought maybe he could only do it there.

He smiles. "Close your eyes and clear your mind, just like you do when you connect to The Life-After."

My mind is a complete blank for what feels like a minute or two, and then a blur of colors appear. As the blur comes into focus, I see motion in front of me.

I think I'm watching something that happened here in L.A. but can't be sure at first. The strawberry-blond girl from the photograph is in front of me, standing outside of a brick building. The sign on the building tells me it's a high school. This is Amanda. She looks like she's waiting for someone, bouncing from foot to foot. When she spots something and smiles, I follow her gaze and see a younger-looking Riley come walking toward her.

Something pulls my eyes down to their hands, which are only a few inches apart as they walk side by side. It takes a few moments for me to realize what I'm supposed to be looking at isn't their hands or their faces at all, but their energy. More specifically, her energy. I focus in on the waves of light around her. My eyes almost fly open at what I see, but Noah places a hand on my shoulder to help me stay focused on what I need to be watching.

I can tell from Amanda's energy that she's a second-timer, or at least she was. This must be a glimpse of her time in The Before prior to her return to The Life-After, but I'm not sure I understand why she was with Riley. I'm the one assigned to him. How Amanda fits in is a mystery.

The pressure from Noah's fingers on my shoulder gets a little heavier. I stop thinking about Amanda and why she's here, and focus on her energy to read it for more clues. Her energy plays with Riley's and I turn my eyes to him. He looks buoyant, his energy at a level high above anything I've seen from him.

Noah's fingers ease up and the scene before me blurs until it fades away. I open my eyes.

"Amanda was a second-timer," I say when I can find my voice.

"She was," Noah agrees.

"She's back in The Life-After now?"

"Yes, she is."

I'm silent for a minute, still puzzling over why she was with Riley.

"Was she assigned to Riley, too?" I ask.

"No, but they grew up together," he replies. "They were very close."

I watch his face and see a familiar expression. There's something he's waiting for me to realize, but I'm not sure what it is.

"How did she leave?"

He sits down in the chair again. "Everyone who knew her thought it was a surfing accident out in Malibu."

Malibu is where I'm supposed to be when it's my time to go back. Another ocean accident. I wonder if her accident was made to look like she'd been caught in a riptide, just like my accident is supposed to appear.

"Was he with her?" I ask.

"No. He was working that morning at the studio. He planned to meet her later on in the day so they could surf together."

"Anything else I should know?"

I don't expect an answer, but I find my eyes closing from a force not my own.

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